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KINGSTON, RI- When a big event such as the NCAA Basketball Tounemanet comes to town, conventional thinking is that the NCAA has total control over all parts of the operation. But when it comes to managing the local, regional, and national media contingent covering the event, the NCAA is relatively hands off. That responsibility falls upon the educational institution hosting the tournament.
The University of Rhode Island (URI) and its sports information department were given the task to organize the media needs of those attending the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Regional in Kingston, RI. In only his third month on the job, URI Coordinator of Sports Communications Shane Donaldson was tapped to be the point man for all media needs.
“This event was so big…so keeping it organized was a challenge for me.” said Donaldson.
Even though requests for media credentials for the women’s tournament do not normally rival those of the men’s championship, a regional featuring four teams attracts more media attention than a typical URI men’s or women’s game. Donaldson said more than 160 credentials were issued for the two-day tournament, 96 of which were to reporters and photographers.
“For a typical men’s game total media is around 30-40 on a given night, so you’re talking more than double than what we typically have.” said Donaldson.
Special attention is given to ESPN, which has exculsive television rights to telecast the women’s tournament. Donaldson said the NCAA sets the number of credentials issued for the television production team, while other ESPN personnel, like those writing for ESPN.com or espnW.com, are credentialed along with other journalists. A total of 75 passes were issued to ESPN personnel.
URI’s Ryan Center, which hosted the tournament, was shut down a full two weeks leading up to the opening tip-off. The specially constructed floor needed to be installed and the customized backboard assemblies did not arrive on site until late last week.
Even though URI had control over most media needs, the NCAA required special accomodations for tournament services and staff. Parts of the lower level of the Ryan Center were transformed to handle operations not typically required during the URI basketball season.
A section under the north stands of the Ryan Center, which is typically used as a storage garage, was converted as the media work room. That room had approximately 75 seats for journalists and photographers. The normal media work room was taken over by ESPN for its interview needs, while the regular season URI interview area served staff coordinating NCAA’s statistics and media relations . The URI football locker room, which is also located in the Ryan Center, was transformed as the general interview room.
On the court URI had a total of three media locations totaling 105 seats. Most of the seats were dedicated to media, with just over 20 set aside for representatives of the schools and the leagues they represent. ESPN occupied a total of 10 seats on press row. Photographers were issued spots under the two baskets.
Meeting the technology needs of the press was another challenge for Donaldson and URI. The school installed an extra 60 wireless internet modems just for the tournament. Each reporter was given a spefic username and password to ensure that no more that two or three users would be occupying each modem. Internet speed for me anywhere in the Ryan Center was never a problem. Ample electrical outlets were also made available for all media members.
NCAA Tournament rules played a role on how local and national radio broadcasts were handled. During the regular season, radio outlets covering URI games are located on same side of the arena as the team benches. NCAA regulations stipulate all radio broadcasts must be stationed on the side of the court opposite the benches. URI was required to install or move ISDN lines to accomodate all local and national radio broadcasts. Donaldson said those moves appeared to go off without a hitch.
The interview room was set up in a manner typical of large sporting events. The NCAA controls all aspects to how the interview room is organized and managed. No local video cameras are allowed to record press conferences. Instead video and audio feeds (both analog and HD) are made available to the electronic media wishing to record any press conference. Along with video restrictions there was also a ban on flash photography in the interview room.
As is typical for most NCAA competitions the size of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, there is never a lack of information on the teams participating or the leagues they represent. Printed statistics are made available during each television timeout and all media members have access to a dedicated NCAA statistics website.
The presence of ESPN at this event was undeniable. As is the case when any network comes to town, there appeared to be more than 75 people donning ESPN press credentials. The network implemented at least two cameras high above mid court, three on the floor, and one high near the main Ryan Center scoreboard in the southwest corner of the arena.
The announcing team of Dave O’Brien and Doris Burke were located, as usual, on the floor at mid-court across from the scorer’s table. Dial Global Radio with Dave Ryan and Ann Shatz were along side ESPN while local radio stations were set-up a row behind the national television and radio teams.
ESPN reporter Holly Rowe could be seen roaming the sidelines during the game but had an assigned seat, with a producer, at the very end of the press row behind the team benches.
My expereince at the Regional Tournament was a positive one. I was not issued a seat courtside for the Regional Semifinals but was issued a spot for Tuesday’s Regional Final. I was at the Ryan Center early enough to secure work space in the first-come, first-served media room.
Just by observing the media at the event I did hear a few complaints. Since the UConn campus is a mere 1.5 hour drive to URI the media contingent was domintated by those covering the Lady Huskies. That made the media room cramped at times and some media members did voice concern over the lack of space. Photographers, who routinely are given separate media quarters during an event as big as the NCAA Tournament, were more vocal than others about the working conditions. Photographers were also concerned about the dim lighting conditions at the Ryan Center.
Food for the media was not available at the lower level but in the arena’s Alumni Club located on the main concourse. Restroom accomodations were also restricted in the lower level so many media members were forced to navigate to restrooms located along the main concourse. To me this was not a big deal. It gave me the opportunity to explore the Ryan Center.
Donaldson said the concerns expressed to him from media members were no different than any regular season game. A large majority of the media at the tournament appeared satisfied with the accomodations at the Ryan Center. Myself included.
For the life-long baseball fan, a visit to Fenway Park is a must stop. For the baseball journalist, an assignment in the Fenway press box is also something special.
I had the opportunity last month to cover a baseball game from the Fenway press box. Before you jump the gun wondering how a sports blogger was able to invade the domain reserved for the Baseball Writers Association of America, the game I was covering was not part of the Red Sox’ schedule. It was this. Why I was there will be part of a future feature story here at SMJ.
Like the park, the Fenway press box has gone through many renovations over the years, and its current configuration fits well into the historic nature of the stadium.
The Red Sox have made their intentions known of their goal to be more environmental friendly, and one of the first things I noticed as I reached the top of the ramp leading to the press box was the placement of solar panels on the roof. I’m not sure if this is a recent development, but a good gesture nonetheless.
On the wall just outside the press box you will see the following quote from former Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti…
Entering the press area you walk through a hallway with its walls decorated with copies of local and national newspaper pages chronicling the Red Sox’ World Series Championships of 2004 and 2007. The Red Sox are not shy about sharing their successes with all.
The working portion of the press box consists of four levels that can serve a little over 100 reporters. From this location, your vantage point of the game is quite distant, but it does give one a great view of the Boston skyline.
On both ends of the front row are microphones where the official scorer and Red Sox officials sit and make rulings and announcements to all the press throughout the game.
The press box is fully equipped with high-speed wireless Internet access. On the right wall of the press box is a flat screen television tuned in to all the action.
There is an overflow area behind the press box area for other members of the media not assigned a seat to take in the game. The room is sponsored by Funai, and also has its walls covered with newspaper accounts of Red Sox teams past.
In the press box hallway the rules of the work area are clearly displayed. (Good thing no one saw me violating #5). The MLB media regulations are available in English, Spanish, and for those from the Far East, Japanese. I guess the regulations are unchanged since last year.
The press box houses seven electronic media booths for radio and television broadcasts. The booths are labeled A through G. The entrances of many possess a photo of a Red Sox broadcast legend. What was most fascinating is the sign that adorns Booth F. It doesn’t appear to be the booth for either the Sox’ flagship radio station WRKO or NESN television. If anyone knows the back story on this, please drop me a line.
There is a separate large booth to the far left of the press box which houses the stadium’s in-house audio and video equipment.
For the games I attended, notes and information were provided by the minor league teams in action. Because they were regular season games for these clubs, much of the official staffing for the games were handled by the Red Sox minor league affiliates, from the official scorer to the pubic address announcer. So it wasn’t just a thrill for the players to take in the Fenway experience, the game day staff of the teams also got a taste of the big leagues.
Also part of the Fenway press box area is a self-service cafeteria. For Red Sox games the press is charged $10 for that day’s buffet. The day I was there the fee was only $5 and the meal consisted of an extra long hot dog, chips, Caesar salad, soft drinks, and ice cream. Not gourmet press box fare but still affordable compared to the food available to the fans. There is also a small food counter area behind the working press box where reporters can access free soft drinks, coffee, and popcorn.
The doubleheader featured wins by both Red Sox minor league clubs. What made the experience a little more difficult for the press was that none of the four teams had access to the Red Sox or visiting clubhouses. All teams were sequestered in a make-shift clubhouse located in a private reception area behind the bleachers in centerfield. Post game interviews were held on the field immediately after the game.
The Red Sox ownership has made upgrades to Fenway Park with the wishes of the fans in mind. With their state-of-the art press box, the media is also well served.
Life in the minors is often tough for the players and coaches trying to make it to the bigs. The P.R. staffs of the clubs also struggle in promoting their team; especially in areas of the country dominated by either their parent organizations or major college programs. Hockey has had its own problems with relevancy.
New England has traditionally been an area of the country that has supported hockey on all levels. The Boston Bruins, although not as successful as their pro baseball, football, and now basketball counterparts, still get a respectable showing at the gate. Their American Hockey League affiliate, located in Providence, RI, is also a decent draw. Being a hop, skip, and a jump from our SMJ headquarters, we thought it would be a good idea to see how the media covers the Providence Bruins by experiencing a game from press row.
The P-Bruins public relations staff consists of V.P. of Marketing and Public Relations Kevin Boryczki and Director of Public Relations Adam Kaufman. As with other minor league operations it’s important for these men need to hone their multi-tasking skills. They maintain the team’s website and work in conjunction with the arena’s video and message board staff on game day. In addition, both serve as the team’s radio play-by-play voice, with Boryczki handling the duties on the road and Kaufman at home.
The Bruins play their home games at the 36 year old Dunkin Donuts Center located in downtown Providence. The arena is currently in the throes of a major renovation which is slated to be completed later this fall. The initial phase of the work included the clean-up of the arena concourse, the creation of luxury box space, and the building of a new press box. The old press area was situated at center ice. With the advent of the luxury suites the new press box was relocated near one corner of the arena. Not the best vantage point for a game, but the media still has complete view of the playing surface.
The new press box is actually one long counter which comfortably seats 20-25 people. The newly designed area provides plenty of work space and easy access to electrical outlets. The new press box is also equipped with wireless Internet access. Each end of the press box is reserved for the teams’ radio broadcasts. The middle of the box is the home for AHL officials who compile statistics of the game. One official is charged with providing live game updates for the AHL website. (To get the full effect, check in during AHL action.) The only negative aspect of the press box is its insufficient lighting. I spent much my time trying to angle my notes in such a way so that I could best take advantage of the low lighting conditions. The team also provides light refreshments for those on press row.
The P-Bruins staff does a great job in providing the press with all the material it needs to cover the game. This includes notes from each individual team, material from the AHL, and information pertinent to that day’s match-up. Game updates are distributed to the media between periods. And a final wrap is available at game’s end.
The P-Bruins currently sport the best record in the AHL. But on this Sunday matinee, there were only three other members of the media on hand to cover the game along with myself. And I wasn’t there to report on the specifics of the contest.
The game between the P-Bruins and the Lowell Devils (the New Jersey Devils AHL affiliate) was actually a great game for the fans. Although the Bruins controlled the action, they needed a goal in overtime to pull out a 4-3 victory.
Post game in the AHL is not flashy. Coaches are available for interviews outside the clubhouse and players are accessible in the locker room. No special interview rooms for a regular season game in February.
Overall the P-Bruins provide the media with a professional experience that would make its parent club proud.
(Thanks go out to Adam Kaufman and the P-Bruins for providing us with the access and information for this story.)
You would think covering a professional golf tournament would be a challenge. It’s virtually impossible to follow all the action because so much of it is spread out across acres of land with dozens of golfers on the course at the same time.
The PGA makes that challenge more surmountable through their elaborate press centers at tour events. I was given access to the media area at the Deutsche Bank Championship held at the TPC of Boston over Labor Day weekend. The Deutsche Bank Championship is the second tournament on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoff series.
At the Deutsche Bank all media activity was housed in a two floor structure constructed just off the 18th green. This temporary edifice was climate controlled with plenty of working space for the press. It also came complete with all the technological resources the PGA has to offer.
The first floor of the media center consisted of an interview room, a working area for photographers, and a cafeteria. The second floor housed the main work area for the press and any anyone else associated with the tournament. There were a total of 90 spaces for print reporters, organized in such a way that two reporters shared a work area.
Also on the second floor were three small, and somewhat private, radio broadcast booths, used over the course of the week for talk shows and any other radio reports from the tournament.
Because this was part of the PGA’s FedEX Cup series, the number of media requests for the tournament was higher than in years past. Over 280 credentials were awarded to the press this year.
The PGA hires a public relations firm to run its media center. At the Deutsche Bank, the media center fell under the purview of Brener Zwikel & Associates (BZA), a PR firm with offices on both coasts. BZA had four full time individuals working in the media center, handling interview requests, coordinating media credentials, and writing press releases on behalf of the tournament.
The PGA also had a presence in the media center. Their role was to handle special requests by the press during the tournament. These included requests by photographers and reporters to be allowed “inside the ropes” and in front of spectators.
The tournament also relies heavily on volunteers to help handle the needs of the media center. There were close to two dozen volunteers on hand to help the media with credential check-in and the distribution of parking and meal passes.
Because the Tour’s top players were in attendance at the tournament, security was of the utmost priority. As a precaution, a Massachusetts State Police K-9 detail scoured the media center each morning and afternoon.
There’s so much information available to the press at a PGA Tour event that you really never have to leave the media center to cover the action. The most interactive of this material is the PGA Tour’s Shotlink statistical software program. This program provides any possible statistical information you would need about any golfer and the strength of the field during a given round. It provides detailed information of each shot made by a golfer, from length of the shot, the distance left to the hole, and approximate position of said shot on the fairway. There was a Shotlink terminal available for approximately every four print reporters stationed in the media center. I really don’t know how reporters survived without it.
If you’re a lover of traditional print information, you weren’t disappointed at the Deutsche Bank. Daily material included a packet of press clippings culled from local newspapers covering the event as well as the previous round’s statistical analysis taken from Shotlink. Each press interview done with a golfer or anyone else associated with the tournament is transcribed verbatim and available minutes after its completion. A tournament program is always available as are ample supplies of the day’s pairings. There’s also a bevy of historical information, covering the PGA Tour season in general and the Deutsche Bank Championship in particular.
Even though the modern day PGA Tour stresses the use of technology, there are still old fashioned elements that stand the test of time. At the front of the second floor press area is the traditional hand written scoreboard, meticulously maintained to display each golfer’s hole-by-hole score as well as a summary page sorting players based on their score of the day. If you’ve ever attended a Tour event you’ve seen a similar scoreboard on the course. The attention to detail by these artisans is amazing. After the second round the board operator in the media center included the image of a pair a scissors indicating the score which represented the cut line for that week’s tournament. Ingenious. Adjacent to the manual scoreboard was an electronic one depicting scores of the tournament leaders.
The media center was equipped with wireless Internet access. The press also had the use of telephones, printers, and fax machines. There were two wide screen televisions in the press room, showing the televised portion of the tournament and other sporting events when the Golf Channel or NBC were off the air.
Speaking of the television coverage, I didn’t see many people from the Golf Channel or NBC make it to the media center. They each received information from their own production facilities located elsewhere on the course.
Forget your notebook? Not to worry. The tournament also provided reporter’s notebooks complete with a course layout, tournament fact sheets, and information on local hotels and restaurants. Kudos to the tournament organizers and the local chambers of commerce for their attention to detail. There were also specially designed sheets available where a reporter could take notes on an individual player’s hole-by-hole performance.
Along with the print press and electronic media, the web also plays a big role at a PGA event. PGA Tour Productions had its own area on press row where reporters and technicians were always busy working on a number of interviews and highlight packages for the Tour’s website. Deutsche Bank also had its share of media professionals on hand working on material for the tournament website.
Food at the tournament also exceeded the norm. Because golf tournaments are a daylong affair, there was a hot breakfast and hot lunch served each day of the tournament. There was also a dedicated bathroom facility for the press located just outside the media center, separate from the portable accommodations available to the general public.
Player interviews were determined by BZA based on the flow of the tournament on a given day. The high profile golfers were interviewed every day. Besides the media center interview room, there was also space available to speak with golfers near the scoring trailers off the 18th and 9th greens. Arrangements were also made for members of the press to talk with golfers who may not be at the top of the leader board but hold significance to their readers or viewers back home.
The press at a PGA Tour event should have no complaints about the resources available to them throughout the course of a tournament. It’s another example where today’s media really has it made.
Women’s sports deserve more press coverage than it gets. Really. The level of competition of women’s athletics is at a level comparable with men. So why do they get less media attention? I would think ESPN would be all over creating ESPN-W.
Press inquiries for the Sun are handled by Media Relations Manager Bill Tavares. He gets help from Publicist Jennifer Hildebrad and three to four part-time employees who work on game days. Tavares and his staff were more than cooperative in granting me access to the team.
The game I attended took place on August 5th as the Sun battled the Indiana Fever. This late season game was significant, as both teams were jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The teams were destined to meet in the first round of the playoffs with the one with the better record in line for home court advantage. (Note: At season’s end Indiana secured the second spot in the East and held home court advantage over the Sun in the opening round.)
The Mohegan Sun Arena is a perfect venue for basketball. It’s a medium sized arena with a seating capacity of around 10,000. Like new areas of its ilk, there’s not a bad seat in the house.
The media center at the arena is a bit off the beaten path. To access it, you need to make your way near the locker rooms, through the cafeteria to a room tucked behind it. The room itself is not that large. It consists of table space along two walls where reporters can power-up their laptops and gain access to high-speed Internet connections. About 10 to 12 reporters can fit comfortably within this space. Even though there is wireless Internet at the press tables near the court, surprisingly the press room is not within range, thus the need for the Cat 5 connections.
The media center is also where the press can access all the material about the game and the two teams. Pre-game materials include team notes, league information and statistics, and a packet of local news clippings previewing that day’s game from newspapers that cover the Sun.
The Sun establishes three primary press areas for game day. There are two press tables located on each end line near the team benches. Each of these tables holds up to 10 spaces for print media and representatives from other WNBA teams on hand to scout the game. There is another press area just behind section 27, along the walkway that separates the lower bowl of the arena and the balcony. This section is reserved for electronic media. Each area is equipped with telephones and small LCD monitors which display in-game statistics directly from the scorers’ table.
Tavares says press coverage of the team varies from game to game. He says the team receives consistent coverage from local papers out of Hartford, Norwich, New London, Waterbury, Manchester, and Willimantic. There’s also a representative from the Associated Press at each game. More high profile games often means coverage from papers out of the Providence and Boston media markets. The Sun will also receive coverage from basketball-specific journals. The local papers and wire services will also often send photographers to shoot the game..
Sun games are broadcast locally on radio over WXLM-FM out of Stonington, CT. Many home games are also telecast on the local Fox or CW affiliate. This game was telecast on CW with Boston Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman handling the call along side former UConn and Sun star Rebecca Lobo.
I was amazed to see that not one member of the electronic press was on hand to cover the game. Hartford is a little less than an hour from the arena, and with the Sun the only professional sports team located in Connecticut, you would think that there would be consistent coverage of the team, especially at home. I guess because the game was televised there was no need to be on hand to gather highlights of the game for the late local newscast. I still found it puzzling.
The Sun pre-game buffet consisted of chicken and rice, lasagna, and pizza. There was also a well stocked fridge with soft drinks and water. A platter consisting of a variety of cookies served as our desert.
One thing I noticed as the game began was that even through there was ample room and the availability of wireless Internet access, just about all of the print media decided to leave their laptops in the media room during the first half. At the break they retired to the media room to work on their stories. At the beginning of the second half, most of the reporters did choose to work on their stories from press row.
The game turned out to be uneventful as the Sun opened up a huge halftime lead, trouncing the Fever 84-59. The Fever played the game without star forward Tamika Catchings and the rest of the team could not overcome the fast start by the Sun.
The game was a sellout, the Sun’s first of the year. As much as the team would have liked to attribute the big crowd to their stellar play, the fact of the matter is that most were there to also take in a post game performance by teen recording artists, the Jonas Brothers. (If you have a young girl who watches the Disney Channel, you can understand the attraction.)
Sun head coach Mike Thibault held his post-game press conference in a dedicated interview room located near the locker rooms. Like all professional teams, the Sun’s interview room is equipped with a dedicated backdrop with the team logo sponsored by, who else but, Mohegan Sun. There are also audio hook-ups for the electronic media. There were about a dozen reporters in the room to get the coach’s comments. Because of the blowout, there was not much for Thibault to say other than the obvious…that the win was a total team effort.
The locker rooms are available to the press for about 10 to 15 minutes after the game. Once the locker rooms closed, the press made its way back to the media room to finish their game stories. By that time the team had assembled a post-game packet, featuring complete and quarterly statistics and play-by-play. Tavares and his staff also compile game summaries and statistics for the league and team websites.
As part of the NBA, the WNBA runs its operation with the same professionalism as its male counterparts. Because of the male dominated nature of sports and sports media, it’s too bad that more people aren’t exposed to it.